Falling Into Place

Fall Out Boy Has Fresh Arrangements To Complement Its Trademark Verbosity On 'Folie A Deux'

April 23, 2009|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

For about four years, the personal drama of Pete Wentz, the bassist, lyricist and de facto figurehead of Fall Out Boy, has threatened to overshadow the hit pop-punk band.

There was his suicide attempt in early 2005. A year later, nude photos of the raven-haired performer appeared on the Internet. Shortly afterward, interviews in Blender and The Advocate magazines, in which Wentz alluded to being bisexual, had blogs and gossip sites buzzing for days. Last May, he married another tabloid darling, pop star Ashlee Simpson. And in November, the two had a baby boy they named Bronx Mowgli.

Some of these events were funneled into Fall Out Boy's music, especially on the band's 2007 album, the platinum-selling Infinity on High.

"That's when I decided I was going to write a record that was going to explain that I don't believe I am what the media portrays me to be," Wentz says. "But then again, I don't know who I am, either."

For the group's latest CD, Folie a Deux, the artist thought it would be good idea to remove himself from the music. He and his band mates - lead singer-guitarist Patrick Stump, guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley - are on a national tour supporting the album. They headline Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia on Saturday.

"With this record, I decided that the best thing to do was to not write autobiographically," says Wentz, who was calling last week from a tour stop in Denver. "I decided to write from other people's perspectives. The only aspect of Pete Wentz on the record is that it just went through my circuits, you know."

His decision not to make the lyrics all about him might have been a relief for the other members of Fall Out Boy.

"We don't talk about that. But I'm guessing, in an unspoken way, they appreciated it," Wentz says.

But if sales of Folie a Deux are any indication, the band's largely teen fan base seems to be moving on. Since its release in December, the CD has sold 364,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, the service that tracks such data in the United States and Canada. (The album received a gold certification in January from the Recording Industry Association of America for shipment of more than 500,000 copies to retailers.) Those sales are a significant drop considering Infinity on High sold more than 260,000 copies during its first week in stores. In a month, that album was platinum. Its predecessor, 2005's From Under the Cork Tree, sold more than 2.5 million copies in about eight months.

While denser musically and a little less convoluted lyrically than Fall Out Boy's previous four albums, Folie a Deux isn't much of a departure. The same caffeine-induced hooks that catapulted the group up the pop charts and made it a mainstay on MTV are intact. But the arrangements of Wentz's tongue-in-cheek songs about fame, politics and twisted romance are much grander.

"I don't think we did, like, a 180 on anybody. But at the same time, we wanted to make a bigger record and do bigger things," says Wentz, 29. "Lyrically, it's dense in the way where it's got depth, but it's also dense in the way like, 'Hey, that person is dense, and they don't know what the hell they're talking about.' It's meant to be more concise. In the past, the lyrics have been utter confusion for people. This time around, we wanted to give people a diet version."

Folie a Deux, a reference to the French term for a rare psychiatric syndrome meaning "a madness shared by two," is a more tricked-out Fall Out Boy record.

"Yeah, there's a little different production, and the lyrics are a little different. But it's not like they became a country band. They're still a pop-rock act, and that has sort of stalled a little bit," says Cortney Harding, a staff writer and editor at Billboard magazine. "They're still big. If they're playing Merriweather Post Pavilion, they're not yesterday's news quite yet."

Beyond Wentz's tabloid-fodder life, part of Fall Out Boy's appeal has been its ability to push the boundaries of the emo-punk sound the band has long embraced.

"Though Fall Out Boy's sound may have offended the more polarized punk music fanatics, it has not hurt FOB's popularity one iota," says Ashley Dos Santos, an executive with Crosby-Volmer International Communications, a Washington-based public relations firm, where she specializes in pop and tween social marketing.

Dos Santos says the group's verbose and high-powered approach to typically low-key, navel-gazing emo appeals to the crowd that "can go from seeing the new Hannah Montana movie one night to a punk-rock concert the next."

But we're talking about a fickle bunch whose tastes change like the wind. Given recent spiraling CD sales and the incredibly short shelf life of teen-pop acts, it's a wonder Fall Out Boy has maintained such a high-profile over the past four years, with two consecutive platinum-plus albums. But Wentz's star appeal has certainly been a major factor in the band's success.

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